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   Chapter 3 THE TRAGEDY

The Deep Lake Mystery By Carolyn Wells Characters: 21353

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


As we went up the steps and crossed the porch of the Moore bungalow, we saw a man seated in the lounge, talking to Lora.

Both jumped up at our approach, and Lora cried out, "Oh, Kee, Mr. Tracy is dead!"

"Sampson Tracy! Dead?" exclaimed Moore, with a look of blank consternation.

"Yes," the man said, tersely, "and not only dead, but murdered. I'm Police Detective March. I've just come from the Tracy house. You see, everything is at sixes and sevens over there. Nobody authorized to take the helm, though plenty of them want to do so. In a way, Everett, the secretary, is head of the heap, but a guest there, Mr. Ames, refuses to acknowledge that Everett has any say at all. Claims he is Tracy's oldest and closest friend, and insists on taking charge himself."

"Why shouldn't he?" asked Keeley Moore, quietly.

"Well, why should he?" countered the policeman. "And, besides, I think he's the man who killed Tracy. But here's my errand here. It seems Mr. Ames was here last night to dinner?"

Lora nodded assent to his inquiring glance.

"Well, he formed a high opinion of Mr. Moore's detective ability, and he wants to engage his services, if possible."

Kee Moore was a tall, dark man, about thirty-five or so. But when he undertook a case, or even thought about undertaking a case, he seemed to change his personality. Rather, he intensified it. He seemed to be taller, darker and older.

I saw this change come over him at once, as he listened to the police detective's words.

There is a phrase about an old warhorse scenting the battle. I've never seen such a thing, but I am sure it implies the same attitude that Moore showed at the moment. His eyes took on a far-away look that was yet alert and receptive. His hands showed strained muscles as he grasped the back of a chair that stood in front of him. His lips lost their smiling curve and set in a straight line. I knew all these gestures well, and I knew that not only would he take up this case, but that he was anxious to get at it at once.

Lora knew it, too, and I heard her sigh as she resigned herself to the inevitable. It wasn't necessary for any of us to say we had hoped Kee was to have a rest from his work, an idle vacation. The two Moores and I knew that, and we all knew, too, that the vacation was broken in upon and there would be no rest for the busy, inquiring brain until the Tracy case was settled for all time.

"I don't know about accepting this offer of Mr. Ames to engage my services," Kee said, "but I will most certainly look into the matter and if I can be of help we can make definite arrangements. Tell me a little more of the circumstances, please, and then we will go over to Pleasure Dome."

"It seems the butler or housekeeper was in the habit of taking tea to Mr. Tracy's room of a morning, at nine o'clock. Well, this morning, the door was locked and nobody responded to knocks on it. So-you can get the connecting data later, sir-they broke in, and found Mr. Tracy dead in bed, with the strangest doings all about."

"What do you mean by strange doings?"

"Well, he was all dolled up with flowers and a long red scarf, and, if you please, a red feather duster sticking up behind his head--"

"Did you see all this?" demanded Moore, his eyes growing darker every minute.

"Yes, and that's not half! There was an orange in his hand and crackers on his pillow and a crucifix against his breast--"

"Come on," said Moore, quietly, but in a tone of suppressed excitement. "Let's get over there before they disturb all that scenery! I never heard of such astounding conditions."

"No, sir, I'll say you didn't," March agreed. "I felt a bit miffed when they told me to come and get you; any detective would, you know, but when I came to think over all that hodge-podge of evidence, I knew it was a case too big for me to tackle alone. I hope you'll let me help you, sir."

"Oh, of course," said Moore, a little impatiently, as he urged the detective to start. "Will your car hold us all?" His glance included me, and March answered; "Oh, yes. I've one of Mr. Tracy's big cars."

When we reached the great house, and stopped at the landing place under the porte-cochère, I was more than ever impressed by the beauty all about.

There was nothing glaring or ostentatious. The bit of verandah we traversed to reach the front door was brightened with a few railing flower-boxes and potted palms, but it was quietly dignified and stately.

Stately was the key word for the whole place, and I suddenly remembered that Kubla Khan's Pleasure Dome was described as stately. Surely, Sampson Tracy had sensed the real meaning of the phrase.

Inside, the house was the same. Marked everywhere by good taste, the appointments were of the finest and best.

There seemed to be a great many people about. Servants were coming and going and policemen were here and there.

March took Moore and myself directly to the library, where Inspector Farrell was awaiting us.

Also present were Ames, whom we already knew, and a young man, who proved to be Charles Everett, the confidential secretary of the dead man.

I took to Everett at once. He was the clean-cut type of so many of our efficient young American secretaries. He looked capable and wise, and being introduced, bowed gravely.

Ames took up the matter at once.

He looked perturbed rather than grumpy this morning, but his speaking voice had an unpleasant twang, and I saw Kee stiffen up as if he would certainly decline to be at this man's beck and call.

"I sent for you, Mr. Moore," Ames began, "to get your help in unravelling the mystery of Sampson Tracy's death. As you will soon learn, the conditions are startlingly unusual, even bizarre. But I have heard that the more bizarre the clues and evidence, the easier a case is to solve. So, I beg you to get at it at once and exert your most clever efforts."

"But I haven't yet said I would take the case for you," Moore told him.

"Why not?" cried Ames, his face lowering in a pettish frown. "I shall make no objection to your terms, whatever they may be-in reason. I shall not trammel you with any restrictions or annoy you with any advice. I am told you are a famous detective. I know you for a friend of Mr. Tracy. Why, then, would you hesitate to solve the problem of his death and learn the identity of his murderer?"

"Are you sure he was murdered?" asked Moore. "You see, I know little of the facts in the case."

"No," broke in Inspector Farrell, "no, we don't know that he was murdered. And the facts that we do know are seemingly contradictory. I trust, Mr. Moore, that you will look into the matter, at least, and give us the benefit of your findings, whether you officially take up the case or not."

"I cannot say," Moore told him, "until I am in possession of the details of the tragedy. Nor do I want it told me here. Let me see the body, let me inquire for myself concerning the facts, and let me draw my own conclusions. Only after that can I decide whether I take on the case or not."

"I think you very unreasonable, Mr. Moore," Ames grumbled. "I want you to be my agent in this matter, and so I want you to start in fully equipped with my sanction and authority."

"Just how much authority have you here, Mr. Ames?" asked Moore, looking at him thoughtfully.

"As the oldest and nearest friend of Sampson Tracy, and as his intimate confidant and adviser, I think I can claim more authority than any one else. In fact the man had no relatives in the world except a niece. He had no friends of a confidential nature except myself. I am not referring to financial affairs, they are in the hands of his lawyer and his secretaries. But if he has been murdered, I propose to hound down the wretch who is responsible for his death. I know much about Tracy's life that nobody else knows. I know of those who might wish him dead, and my knowledge, combined with the skill of a canny detective, must bring out the truth."

This was straightforward talk, and Ames, though his face wore an aggrieved expression, spoke concisely and to the point. But after all, his manner was truculent, he didn't ask Moore's help so much as he demanded it, almost commandeered it. I was not surprised to see Kee stick to his first decision.

"I appreciate all you say, Mr. Ames," Kee said, "but I repeat I am not willing to take a case until I look into it. Do not delay further, but let us go at once to the scene of the tragedy."

Ames glowered, but without another word he led the way from the room and turned toward the staircase.

The broad steps, carpeted with red velvet, branched half way up, and turning to the right, Ames conducted us to Sampson Tracy's rooms. They were in a wing that had been flung out at the back of the house, probably as a later addition to the structure. Entrance was through a private hall, and then into a foyer or ante-room, from which led several doors.

"This is the bedroom," said the Inspector, taking a key from his pocket as he paused before one of the doors.

"I thought you had to break in," Moore said, looking at the unmarred door.

"Not exactly," Farrell told him. "The door was locked and the key inside, in the lock. But they got the garage mechanician up here, and he managed to dislodge the key and then get the door unlocked with his tools."

He opened the door, and we filed in, the Inspector first, then Moore and I, then Ames and Detective March.

Farrell closed and locked the door behind us, and it was then that I saw the strange, the grotesque spectacle of Sampson Tracy's deathbed.

The first thing that caught my attention and from which I found it well nigh impossible to detach my vision was the red-feather duster.

A full plume of bright red feathers seemed to crown the head on the pillow.

The handle of the duster had been thrust down behind and under the head, and only the red plume showed, of such fine, light feathers that a few fronds waved at a step across the room or a movement near the bed.

Then I looked at the rest of the strange picture.

Sampson Tracy was a large and heavy man. His head was large, and his face was of the conformation sometimes called pear-shaped. He had heavy jaws, pendulous jowls and a large mouth. Clean shaven as to face, his hair was thick and rather long. His eyebrows were bushy, and his half opened eyes of a glassy and yet dull blue.

His hair was iron-gray, and round his brow were wreathed some blossoms of blue larkspur. Across his chest, diagonally, was a garland of the same flowers. The blossoms were not tied or twined, they had merely been laid in a row in order to fo

rm a vinelike garland.

The right hand, bent to rest on his breast, held a crucifix, and in the left hand was, of all things, a small orange.

His head lay on one large pillow, and on the other pillow was a folded handkerchief and also two small sweet crackers. And encircling the head and shoulders, framing all these strange details, a long and wide scarf, of soft and filmy scarlet chiffon, a beautiful scarf, from a woman's point of view, but a peculiar adjunct to a man's taking-off.

I stared at all this, quite forgetting to look at Moore to see how he was taking it.

When I did glance up at him, hearing his voice, I saw he had evidently completed his scrutiny of the bed and had turned to Harper Ames.

"Why do you think Mr. Tracy was murdered?" Kee asked of the glum-faced one.

"What other theory is possible?" Ames returned. "A suicide would not place all that flumadiddle about himself. A natural death wouldn't have such decorations, either. So, he was killed, either by some one with a most distorted sense of humour, or there is a meaning in each seeming bit of foolishness."

"What did he die of, exactly?"

"That we don't know yet, the doctor will be here any minute, and the coroner, too."

Even as he spoke, Doctor Rogers arrived. He was the family physician, and as Farrell opened the door to his knock, he went straight to the bed.

"What's all this rubbish?" he exclaimed, reaching for the scarf.

"Don't touch it, If you can help it, Doctor," March implored him. "It may be evidence--"

"Evidence of what?"

"Crime-murder-or is it a natural death?"

Doctor Rogers was making his examination with as little disturbance as might be of the flowers and scarf.

But the feather duster he pulled from its place and flung across the room. The orange followed it, and the crackers.

"Pick them up if you want them for clues," he said; "you know where they were found, and I won't have my friend photographed with all those monkey tricks about him!"

March picked up the things, with a due regard for possible finger prints, and stored them away in a drawer of the chiffonier.

Finally, Doctor Rogers straightened up from his examining, and rose to his feet.

"Apoplexy," he said. "What's all this talk about murder? Sampson Tracy is dead of apoplexy, as I have often told him he would be, if he kept on with his plan of eating and drinking too much and taking little or no exercise. He had an apoplectic stroke last night which proved fatal. He died, as nearly as I can judge, about two o'clock. As to these foolish trinkets, they were brought in here later and placed round him after he was dead. You can see that though he seemed to hold the cross and the orange in his hands, they weren't tightly held, the fingers were bent round them after death. It must have been the deed of some child or of some servant who is mentally lacking. Is there a girl of twelve or fourteen on the place? But I've no time to tarry now. I'm on my way to the train. I'm going for my vacation on a trip through Canada and down the Pacific coast. I'd throw it over, of course, if I could be of any use. But I can't, and my wife is waiting for me. I've given my statement as to Tracy's death, and I know I'm right. Here comes Coroner Hart now. I say, Hart, the Inspector and Mr. Ames here will tell you my findings, and I know you'll corroborate me. It's all a terrible pity, but I knew he was digging his grave with his teeth. No amount of advice did a bit of good. As to the flowers and rags, look for a twelve-year-old girl.... There are the ones who kick up such bobberies. Maybe the housekeeper has a grandchild, or maybe there is a kiddy in the chauffeur's or gardener's cottage. Good-bye, I must run. Sorry, but to lose this local train means to upset our reservations all along the trip."

The Doctor hurried away, yet so positive had been his diagnosis, and so logical his disinclination to linger when he could be of no possible use, that we all forgave him in our minds.

The Coroner gave a start at the masses of flowers, somewhat disarranged by Doctor Rogers's manipulations, and drew nearer to the body.

Farrell told him how things had been before Doctor Rogers removed the feather duster and threw out the orange and crackers.

"He ought to have let them alone!" Hart declared, angrily.

"It doesn't really matter," put in March, "I know exactly how they were lying, and anyway, Rogers says it's a natural death."

"Natural? With all that gimcrack show!"

"He says that's the work of a mischievous child, for preference, a little girl of twelve or fourteen."

"He's thinking of Poltergeist-he's got that sort of thing on the brain. Let me take a look at the body."

So Doctor Hart sat on the side of the bed and made his examination of the dead millionaire.

"There is every symptom of apoplexy," he said, at last, "and no symptom of anything else. Yet, I feel a little uncertainty. We'll have to see what the autopsy says."

"When can you have that?" Ames asked him.

"Very soon. This afternoon, probably. But it is important now to make inquiries as to conditions last night. You were here, Mr. Ames?"

"Yes,-that is, I am staying here, visiting, you know,-but last evening I was out to dinner, with our neighbour, Mr. Moore here."

"What time did you get home?"

"Not late; about eleven, I think."

"Had Mr. Tracy gone to bed then?"

"No, he was waiting up for me. We went into the smoking room and had a smoke and a chat."

"What time did you retire?"

"We went upstairs about midnight, I should say. I said good night to him on this floor and then went on upstairs to my own room."

"He seemed in his usual health and spirits?"

"So far as I noticed, yes."

"You heard nothing unusual in the night?"

"Nothing at all."

"What was the subject of your conversation last evening?"

"Nothing of serious moment. He asked me who were at the Moore party and I told him. He was lightly interested, but cared only to hear about Mrs. Dallas, who is his fiancée and who was at the party."

"And Mr. Tracy was not there?"

"No. He had been invited, but-well, he had had a little tiff with the lady, and in a moment of anger had declined the invitation. He was sorry afterward and wished he had accepted it. I begged him to go in my place, I would have willingly stayed home, but he wouldn't hear of such a thing. Then I wanted to telephone Mrs. Moore, the hostess, and ask her to make room for him, too, but he wouldn't allow that, either. So I went to the dinner, and Mrs. Dallas went, but Mr. Tracy stayed at home."

"Alone?"

"I think so, except for his two secretaries. When I came home, he was in a pleasant enough mood, and I concluded he had thought it all over and straightened it out in his mind one way or another. I didn't refer to the matter at all, but he asked me many questions about Mrs. Dallas, such as how she looked, what mood she was in and whether she said anything about him. Just such questions as a man would naturally ask about his absent sweetheart."

"All this properly belongs to the inquest," Coroner Hart said. "But I want to get any side-lights I can while the matter is fresh in your mind. Do you know this room well, Mr. Ames?"

"Not at all. I've only been in here once or twice in my life."

"Then you can't tell me if anything is missing?"

"No, I think not," Ames looked around. "No, I don't know anything about the appointments here. Or do you mean valuables?"

"Anything at all. I think we can't blink the fact that somebody came in here after the man was dead, and arranged all those weird decorations. Now maybe that somebody took away something as well."

"That I don't know," Ames reiterated. "I know nothing of Tracy's belongings."

The man had been pleasant enough at first, but now he was resuming his irritable manner, and I wondered if he would get really angry.

Keeley Moore was saying almost nothing. But I knew he was losing no points of what was happening, and I rather expected him to break out soon. He did.

"Perhaps, Doctor Hart," he said, quietly, "it might be a good idea to get Mr. Tracy's manservant or housekeeper up here, and find out a little more about the appointments of this room. For instance, whether the orange and crackers were already here, or whether the mysterious visitor brought them."

"I was just about to do that, Mr. Moore," the Coroner said, with such haste that I had my doubts of his veracity.

But he rang a bell in the wall, and we waited for a response.

The butler himself answered it, a rather grandiose personage in the throes of excitement and grief at the terrible happenings to his master.

"Well, Griscom," Ames said, with his habitual frown, "these gentlemen want to ask you some questions. Answer them as fully as you can."

"Was it Mr. Tracy's habit to have a bit of fruit or a cracker in his room at night?" the Coroner inquired.

"Yes, sir," said the butler, and the sound of his own voice seemed to steady him. "He always had an orange or a few grapes and a cracker or two on the table by his bed, sir."

"And do you think this orange and these crackers are the ones put out for him last night?"

"I'm sure of it, sir. I put them out myself."

"Then where is the plate? Surely you had them on a plate."

"Of course, sir. They were on a small gilt-edged plate. I don't see it about."

"No, I don't either. Had Mr. Tracy a valet?"

"No, sir, he didn't like a man fussing about. I attended him, sir, and a footman helped me out now and then; and Mrs. Fenn, she's cook and housekeeper, sir, she looked after his clothes, saving what I did myself."

"Have you any reason to think your master would take his own life?"

"Oh, Lord, no, sir. Begging your pardon, but he was very fond of life, was Mr. Tracy. I thought he died of a fit, sir."

"Probably he did. A fit or stroke of apoplexy. I begin to think, Inspector, we have no murder mystery on our hands after all."

"No," said Farrell, shaking his head, "apparently not."

"Apparently yes," said Keeley Moore, quietly. He had been looking at the dead man, and though he had not moved, but had stood for a long time, with his hands in his pockets, staring down at the still figure on the bed, I knew, somehow, that he had made a discovery.

"Stand over here, please, Inspector," he said, in his calm, matter-of-fact way.

Farrell went and stood beside him, and Moore pointed to a very small circular object that shone like silver, though nearly hidden by the thick and rather long hair of Sampson Tracy.

It was the head of a nail that had been driven into the man's skull.

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